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VOL. 126 | NO. 245 | Friday, December 16, 2011

Pearl and Mel Shaw

Recognize Who Makes Decisions

By Mel and Pearl Shaw

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Editor’s note: Part one of a two-part series Which is more important: efficiency or innovation? Consolidation or diversity? Are the values and metrics of the private sector the same as those of the nonprofit sector? Should funding flow to institutions and organizations that demonstrate the greatest impact and serve the greatest numbers?

Should institutions with powerful and influential boards be considered more worthy of investment than those run by activists, artists or community members? How does long-term, stable funding – and endowments – impact an institution’s ability to secure current funds? How are the disparate impacts of current and historic racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism and religious intolerance integrated into funding assessments? Is there one yardstick against which all nonprofits are evaluated or is there diversity in measurement?

Who makes these decisions anyway?

Believe it or not, we all make these decisions. We do so consciously and unconsciously, with great impact and with almost none. Whether we give $25 as an individual, allocate $2.5 million as a federal agency or recommend $25,000 as a program officer or foundation board member, we are making the decisions.

We don’t necessarily know how our actions will compound with or offset the actions of others. Sometimes we can anticipate the impact; other times, we won’t know for years to come. We have to use our judgment, rely on experience, trust our instincts and open ourselves to voices and visions we may not encounter in the course of our personal, professional or religious lives.

As fundraising consultants, our work gives us a firsthand look at the diversity within the nonprofit sector. There is diversity in the types of organizations, service areas, advocacy foci, leadership, budget size and history. There is diversity in the number and type of people served. Impact, efficiency, reporting, staffing levels, salaries, experience, success, funding and visibility all vary.

We are also aware that during “challenging economic times” the pendulum can swing too far towards efficiency and consolidation. While we certainly advocate for these, we also believe in diversity and innovation. Our experience has also shown these are not always found within the same organization.

Those who work with us know we always ask about impact, numbers served and advocacy results. We want to know if other organizations are doing similar work, challenging our clients to move away from duplication and toward filling a unique niche. At the same time, we want to know who is not being served. We ask questions about how emerging communities – particularly immigrant communities that might have small or large numbers – are being served and included.

While it may cost more to provide services to a smaller community, efficiency cannot be the only factor influencing the work of the nonprofit sector. Justice, equity, diversity and creativity are also guiding values.

Continued next week!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help nonprofit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of “How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors.” Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call 522-8727.

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